Blossoming relationship

I have gushed at length about my mother’s many talents, but today I must divulge a weakness: computers (remote controls can be problematic as well). She tries, she really does. And I know I should have more patience. But … On a recent visit, she insisted that I refrain from touching the “wifi” plugged into the side of her laptop or it would  mess everything up. It was actually a mouse. She had two mice plugged in at the same time.

Seated side-by-side at her kitchen island, I had offered to try to straighten out an ongoing problem with email and so I took control of just one mouse and started clicking. But she insisted that I  teach her how to the fix the problem herself. You know, “Teach a man to fish,”  that short of thing. I relinquished control and guided her through the steps.  It was excruciating.

Less than an hour later, my mother and I had switched roles. She became the expert and I became the person painful to watch. I had asked my mother to teach me the steps to make a fresh flower arrangement and before long she actually took the scissors out of my hand, more than once in fact. It was a nice moment of understanding, or payback. We both laughed.

My mother’s expertise with flowers far, far exceeds my knowledge of technology. She has worked as a professional floral designer for some 40 years. And before that, as an amateur, she would cut and dry bunches of sea lavender to make centerpieces and wreaths to sell at school fairs. She taught me how to decorate my window boxes and mantle with greens for the holidays and how to hang a garland around the front door. She made flowers for my wedding and my two sisters’ weddings. She’s talented. And now famous.

The winter issue of Cape Cod Home featured a story on houses decorated for the holidays, including this one (see above and below images) done by my mother for Harvest of Barnstable. My favorite line: “Our beautiful designs were conceived in house by Alice Flynn.” Yeah Mom!


I love flowers, but I tend to place them in a vase after I get home from the supermarket. I don’t arrange. So that’s what brought us to Trader Joe’s on a recent Saturday morning for some hands-on learning.

Photo by Elizabeth Leighton

The selection was good. We picked out white hydrangeas,  purple delphinium and stalks of pink/purplish alstroemeria, along with three varieties of eucalyptus. You always want texture in addition to the flowers. Remember that. I also discovered that it’s best to select an odd number of each variety of flower (3 hydrangea, 5 delphinium, 7 alstroemeria).

And here’s a few other beauties I gleaned:

Tip 1: Before you start, always cut the stems diagonally, under running water, about an inch from the ends. You don’t want them all the same height, though. That would make for a boring flower arrangement.

Tip #2: Before placing flowers into arrangement, you must remove any leaves that would be in the water. My mother was adamant about this step.

Tip #3: Add water and preservative to the vase. (I always did this after the flowers were in the vase and it made a mess.)

Tip #4: Start with the larger, more dominant flowers first. In our case, it was the hydrangea. It’s best to work with a single type of flower at a time.

My mother looks worried.


Tip #5: Turn the arrangement as you go along to make sure it looks even on all sides.

Tip #6:  Generally speaking, the height of the arrangement should be one and a half times the height of the vase.

Tip #7: Keep layering the flowers, and edit as you go.

Tip #8: Use baby’s breath to break up any heaviness. “When in doubt, add white,” advises Alice.

In the end, the arrangement looked beautiful. I can honestly say I did 85 percent of it myself. I did catch my mother “editing” some after I had briefly left the kitchen and returned. She couldn’t help herself. I’m not complaining. There are far worse things a mother could meddle in.

The finished creation at home on our buffet. Photo by Sarah Leighton.













6 thoughts on “Blossoming relationship”

  1. This is WONDERFUL! I am a closet “wish I could arrange flowers like a pro” person and these are great tips. Also, my mother, like Alice is technologically challenged. Add the push-button landline to that list of computers and remotes. She refuses to use a cell phone, but those landlines have gotten just as advanced.

  2. Susan this is why you are so much like mom. I love and so appreciate her talents in floral arranging but have no desire to try and learn it myself. My college roommates always told me they were going to give me a color wheel when we graduated. Your arrangement looks beautiful. It’s so funny that you were experiencing frustration with teaching computer technology. That was always Tommy’s job and we all would tell him to have more patience with mom.He would for sure have had comments on your experience!

  3. I thought the exact same thing. Tommy tried so hard to have patience with mom’s computer issues. Looking back he probably had more patience than me. I really think so.

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